Kuala Lumpur, Formula One weekend with Giles
22.03.2013 - 25.03.2013 38 °C
Thanks to my three alarms and my mother leaving a missed call on my phone there was no way in hell I was going to wake up later than 07:05 even if I was still runnng the risk of missing the plane by leaving late and cycling my old red bicycle as fast as it could go the 20 or so mins to Chiang Mai Airport. It was a cool morning but you would never of known that by looking at my exhausted, red and wet self as ran to the toilet to change into my jeans and shoes just incase they checked bag weight or size; needn't of bothered considering how much some people were permitted to take on board- 40 litre rucksacks, huge bags of 'souvenirs' and hats the size of a small television! Besides accidentally trying to check in at the Domestic Terminal, going through security without the required stamp on my so called 'Boarding Pass' and leaving my passport at the convenience store by the gate I made it onto the plane safe and sound ready for what promised to be an exciting weekend!
With adrenalin pumping through my veins, despite only four hours sleep, I watched the wonderfully confusing Cloud Atlas until was told to turn my Kindle off in preparation to land into the god forsaken LCCT terminal. I passed through immigration in no time and with no bag to collect was by a bus stop within minutes only to deduce that there is no direct bus to Sepang Circuit so unwisely got on a KLIA shuttle only to go straight past where I wanted to be within seconds of leaving the airport- if looked at the map on the printed ticket I would have known! Upon hearing that the vehicle I just came on was now going in my direction annoyed me just that little bit more but in the meantime spoke to a middle aged Scottish/ Welsh couple who were big F1 and of course Rugby fans so when off the racing topic heard all the ins and outs of Englands annhiliation in the six nations last weekend.
The three of us were literally dropped by the side of the motorway and expected to waltz up a not small hill in 70% humidity and about 35c to the enormous Welcome Area where continued onward to the main Grandstand as Friday is a 'free day' meaning are able to go anywhere.
You could tell the second practice session for the Formula 1 had begun well before arriving due to the noise but being by the main straight when they are going at over 320kmh was nigh on ear shattering and equally awesome at the same time; ear plugs lessen the experience in my view! We stayed here to watch all the going's on in the pit garages, in particular Lotus and Mercedes, as the cars kept on coming in for new tyres or to be lifted inside for some minor modifications; so interesting to see.
A rain shower arrived half hour before the end so all 22 cars left the track and I thought that was the end until some opted for a test in the new conditions bringing up walls of spray on the wet tyres. Seeing as the majority of people about were leaving I went against the flow and used my wide angle lens to take some spectacular architectural shots of the 14 year old place including the landmark Sepang Tower where could see a good 40% of the track from just as the GP2 qualifying was going on below.
Almost out of water, legs rubbing against by boardies and more sweaty that at any point in a long time I kept on going to the start finish line and podium area then briefly took a look at my exact seats for the next two days in K1 Grandstand (great except for a cable stay in my eye line that holds up the roof) before taking a 15 MYR hard seated bus the 75 min to Kuala Lumpur- rush hour so would usually be shorter.
At KL Sentral about 6:30pm I located the Rapid KL LRT metro, paid 1 MYR for a blue token and used it to go one stop north to Pasar Seni where the map directed me straight to Fernloft Hostel a mere 90 seconds away. I checked in to my 20 bed 'Lavender' dormitory, made a meal of fitting the sheets to the bed, used the stinging shower (like hailstones hitting you) and placed my valuables in the big safe as went up one more floor to the rooftop for the view and the wifi connection. The need for food became too great and luckily for me Chinatown was just round the corner but my memory couldn't bring me to the cheap place me and Amy ate at on more than one occasion when here last about 15 months ago. Instead I ate a Kaya Puff thing (Asian jam and Pandan flavour- still ?) and two dried meat buns (sound wrong but not bad for 2.50 MYR each) then bought a bottle of Calrsberg and a bottle of Skol ($4 each) to take with me to the roof; as Muslim country alcohol so much more than places like the Philippines or Thailand.
I briefly sat with three Norwegian girls (Mary, Marion and Helen) then when they left I changed tables just as a few others arrived who all introduced themselves momentarily which is exactly what these sort of places are all about- Dijon from New York, Finn Remi and East Berliner Fanny. As Remi works for the embassy here he gave us a detailed introduction to the complexities of Malaysian government, elections and the power of each ethnic group and is in KL until the election which must take place in the next couple of months- no one knows exactly when! He shared his green apple vodka as I got speaking with Fanny who has spent years studying how to teach specific parts of certain professions without being in that profession herself; for example telling nurses about anatomy so they can use it in their day to day jobs. Inevitably the merits of my month long TEFL course compared with her degree were raised and I felt a little silly but she understood why was doing it and how it would be beneficial to my travels. Being an hour later than what I said to the Norwegians I left on my own to meet them and a number of others at Reggae Bar only a block away so had a couple of 12 MYR schooners of beer, met a crazy Iranian and gave a jibe to a worried Australian about the real possibility of Tony Abbott becoming the Liberal leader of his country this September- will be a disaster and god only knows who votes for him! Preferring the hostel I gave a poor excuse and returned to the roof for more vodka then myself, Fanny, a Dutch guy and a German (so bad with names) happened to go to Reggae again where I kicked ass at pool and played one of my best ever games. We didn't stay long although carried on drinking and talking till 4 then went to bed.
Having forgot to change the clock on my phone (here is 1 hour ahead) I overslept but still found time to eat half a dozen free pieces of toast with butter and jam and send a message to my friend Giles letting him know of my lateness; should of probably been in more of a hurry but feeling tired and quite out of it. I got my skates on sort of and used the LRT and hour long bus to reach Sepang where he was waiting unfazed and just happy to be here in the first place; played golf at university together and he now lives in Jakarta teaching with his Indonesian wife. We decided against paying 60 MYR ($20) for a program or 100-170 MYR for race headphones (rip off and you should be able to rent!) as went to K1 and sat in an empty row near the top in time for the GP2 race; some breeze and only about 20% full so moved about sitting wherever we liked. Besides the fact we had no clue who any of the drivers or teams were we enjoyed all the overtaking going on and gave us a taster for what we would witness on Sunday.
At 1pm the third FL practice took place in dry conditions for an hour making us a little bored and agitated if I must admit especially seeing as the air became still and temperature rose enough to make us not want to be here. We moved to the end of the stand that overlooked fast turn 3 (black guy wearing a shower cap caught our attention straight off) to watch the Supercar race unfold which contained production varients of Ferrari's, Ford GT's, Porsche, Lamborghini, Mclaren and Aston Martin but for some reason had an early 2000's Toyota Camry as the safety car handlying proceedings- wtf?! funding issues?
Absolutely shattered and yawning all the time I lay down for 50 minutes across four seats then just prior to FL Qualifying at 4pm cracked open the 375ml Whiskey I snuck in along with some Sprite and a bottle to drink out of. Due to our reluctance to even buy water here we were so thirsty that everything was empty by 4.30! On satellite TV qualifying is actually quite exciting but when so far away from the 'giant' screen I could only see track positions and time through the zoom lens of my camera it felt like a 4th practice session albeit with less and less cars eventually. The thing I enjoyed the most was listening in to the gear changes from being in second at turn 2 and progressing to sixth or seventh depending on the car by the fast straight between turns 3 and 4...made a rhythm in my head that you simply wouldnt be able to do if not here by the cars themselves.
The moment it became clear Vettel had pole position ahead of Massa (all happened on last lap- wouldn't of known) we tried our best to get ahead of the thousands of others on way to the multitude of buses that awaited groups or just tourists making their own way about such as myself and Giles. I power walked ahead (he had a cut in his heel so couldnt keep up) only to see that the bus option wasn't anywhere near as popular as the shuttle & train so paid the 15 MYR and within a few minutes were on the unlimited leg room sideways facing seats both with our eyes shut for the duration of the journey. It took time to purchase the LRT tokens (long queues) but were in Fernloft by a reasonable 7.30pm so took off smelly clothes, washed and looked to see who was about. We visited the KK Mart for beers and more whisky, ate little bits and joined the Norwegians, Americans Allie and Amber (both married and volunteering in Cambodia), some Canadians and another yank, Howard (shared some of our drink) to play pyramid and f*** the dealer. As most of them left to go and catch the end of a free Backstreet Boys concert beneath Petronas Towers we stayed till everything was gone, however this made us far drunker than we intended to be and so our night was cut short probably for the best as neither of us had any energy once managed to locate an open food source within easy walking distance- Asian dishes for about 6 times the price of what I pay at my local Thai market and no better.
Up at 10.30am feeling re-energised I used the net and had more toast then officially checked out as Giles was paying for a bed this evening so just required me moving the things in my locker and returning the fiddly bed sheet knowing there would be spare mattresses about later even if they keep turning customers away saying 'its full' (no way!). We were at Sentral's McDonalds at the stroke of 12 meaning the breakfast menu turned into lunch (bingo) so had a double peppercorn burger with twisty fries and a non iced Sprite for only 11 MYR.
I grabbed a load of small waters to hide in the bottom of my bag (false bottom so works everywhere) and were soon on a cold bus out to the circuit as it was RACE SUNDAY; Ipod died so just stared out window and did a spot of thinking (not that I don't do that every waking second of every day anyway). Forced to go up the hill again we caught our breath by the Drift Challenge and went inside the Automotive Museum to make the most of the A/C whilst learning about the Malaysian car industry from its origins nearly a century ago to Proton!
I wanted to get out there and experience what, if any, atmosphere there was and go to our exact seats in Block E, Row J 1 & 2 of K1 (easier than it sounds) which is situated at the end of the main straight at turn 1! Although was a scorcher of a day there was enough air movement about that we didn't feel too hot so could relax, people watch and check out some stunning girls who were blatently just there on their boyfriends or husbands request as none seemed interested in anything but their phones.
By the time everyone rose to sing or pretend to sing the National Anthem about 80% of the green seats were occupied but unfortunately there was just no vibe or chants or banter or anything from the crowd much unlike the Melbourne Grand Prix or any other sporting event I have been to for that matter. A rain shower came and went far too early to make a difference and the big screen that was our only way of seeing what was happening away from our section turned off so we were in effect blind just prior to the formation lap. I made my way closer to the front almost forgetting to give Giles my small camera for video which in turn nearly made me miss using my SLR for the start.
At 4pm the lights went out and it was GO GO GO as used continuous shooting seeing all the front runners get off well and attack Vettel from the first corner with not a single incident occurring even though some damp sports still about- utterly disppointed as we both wanted a pile up of some kind! It was so incredibly amazing and I was ecstatic to have just witnessed the start of a race that is seen by countless millions all over the globe!
On the next lap I was concentrating on something when Giles shouted and I looked up only to see Alonso with his front wing off and careering off into the gravel trap a few yards away from me; wow so awesome and couldnt of happened to a nicer guy. I watched intently as he tried in vein for the stewards to dig him out then saw him unplug his steering wheel and jump out as his Ferrari was hoisted up by a small crane onto a flat bed truck- cool!
When that excitement cooled down we sat focused on any car going by knowing what the positions were until the first round of pit stops confused things a while (no refuelling, just tyres but this track and high temperature obliterates the rubber ever so quickly) with us not realising Webber was infact leading later on in the race from Vettel and the Mercedes's drivers; zoomed in to see number 2 on the side of the F1 car.
Last weeks winner Raikonnen was well off the pace and although Jenson Button (my favourite driver) was doing well in 5th a loose wheel nut made him come into the pits for an unscheduled stop and eventually McLaren had to retire the poor Englishman. With only 4 drivers from 2 teams having any hope of winning the fact team orders came into play after the third and final round of pit stops was a bit ridiculous considering its only the second race of 19! I may not like the guy one little bit but at least Vettel's epic battle against his unsuspecting Red Bull Team mate for 3/4 laps was highly entertaining for us viewing it all live. Seeing them go right by the pit wall and side by side for a few seconds was just perfect and made the race for me although would of been nice if Webber held off and the Mercedes duo of Rosberg and Hamilton did the same instead of falling back being pansys.
The last ten laps were a rather sedate and boring affair with nothing happening so the moment Vettel passed the chequered flag and the little bastard waved at us we high tailed it out the stand as fast as we could to the buses, this time beating the majority of spectators- very happy to have seen such an entertaining race!
Avoiding the traffic as well we were back in city an hour later and located a Subway for a 6 inch Meatball sub filled with everything possible and more forgetting how good they are! At the hostel we sat with Columbian Carlos, Howard and another guy drinking till 1am when passed out on an empty bed for 2 hours.
Giles woke me (alarm failed to do its job for the first time) and a few drozy minutes later we were inside a taxi that happened to be on the road outside the front door (was early to take a girl all the way to the airport so gained extra money doing an inbetween run) to take us to Sentral. It was only 8 MYR for an Aerobus to the LCCT (paying double over the weekend for near enough same place) so put my headphones in and eye covers on until we were there and it was time to say farewell to Giles who was going on to the bigger and much better KLIA. I ate a bland McDonalds's breakfast with coffee (I want sleep and I do that?!) and did all the usual bits to reach the hectic departure lounge to spend my last Ringitt on water and send messages to people on the wifi as well as looking up the location of things in Chiang Mai on Google Maps. When my Air Asia flight was called I sat by the gate till I was the only one left but in doing so meant I struggled to find the right plane in what is always a damn free for all out on the ramp making it really dangerous as passengers could wonder off anywhere. In my correct seat by a window I closed my eyes and almost didn't feel takeoff at 7am and was like this for the entire flight except when filled out the arrivals form for Thailand. Due to the climate and incessant burning taking place I barely saw my temporary home city as landed into Chiang Mai to begin my last 11 days in Thailand. Twas an epic weekend! :-)